parenting, tips, tricks, toddlers, advice, packed lunches

September Resource Round-Up

parenting, tips, tricks, toddlers, advice, packed lunchesSometimes it can be overwhelming looking through all there is available online.

I always appreciate it when my friends email or text me an article they know I will either find useful, inspiring, or just plain funny.

So today, let me be that friend for you.

Below is my collection of September favorites.  Hopefully you will find a new resource to use, a new blogger to love, or just find an article that you shake your head “yes” to.

If you use Instagram, you can definitely use this article on 7 features most people don’t know exist in Instagram.

This article made me nod my head in agreement.  A lot.  18 Things that are hard to explain to third world friends.  Numbers 4 and 2?  Yes and yes.

I am a terrible artist.  Chris is awesome.  I think I want to give this book a try just so I can hang with him and the boys.

Do you know Rachel of Finding Joy?  I love her Dear Mom Letters.  This post especially resonated with me this month.  Very encouraging if you are a mom.

If you’re already tired of packing lunches, check out “How to set-up pack your own lunch stations for kids“.

Tired of explaining so many things to your kids?  Let Mental Floss help.  They just launched a new series WHY? for parents and kids.  Check out this one answering “Why do I have to go to sleep?”

And finally, find some new audio that both you and the kiddos can enjoy.  “14 podcasts your kids will like that won’t drive you crazy“.

Let us know if there is anything specific you are looking for.  We have a plethora of good resources we are happy to share!


The Falllacy of Push-Button Learning

If Americans like convenience.

Walk into any American convenience store and compare the price of a loaf of bread to the price you pay at a grocery store 2 miles down the road, you’ll see how much extra we are often willing to pay for convenience.

This is all well and good when it comes to a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk.

But what about when it comes to educating our children?

Convenience isn’t the only factor driving American public schools to adopt technology, glowing screens, online curriculum and the like, but it’s a big one.

I think we have fallen in love with the idea of our children learning “faster,” “better,” “more efficiently.”

I think if the average public school administrator or school board member in America could, they would educate our children in same way that Neo, the protagonist of popular science-fiction film The Matrix, gets his education and training; by ‘jacking in’ his consciousness directly to a computer.

Are those of us who resist the idea of putting our children in front of glowing screens motivated to do so because we are just a bunch of anti-technological, luddite, backwards, worrywarts?


We’ve just been paying attention.


  1. Technology In Classrooms

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a report this week reaffirming the conclusions that so many parents and educators around the world came to years ago: more time spent in front of educational technology doesn’t lead to better educational outcomes for kids.

“Students who use computers for schoolwork, but do so for a slightly below-average amount of time, performed better than average on both written and digital reading tests, according to the survey.

And students who spend an above-average amount of time in front of a computer at school performed the worse than other students, including those who might not use them at all.

If you’re a parent who has bought into the sales pitch parroted by school boards, administrators and loudest of all by the producers of these educational technologies, give that underlined sentence above a chance to really sink in.

All that money that your public school district has funneled into shiny touchscreens, trendy apps and the expensive infrastructure required to make it all work has been for precisely nothing.

Guess what all of that money could have been going to instead? Things that are proven to actually produce better educational outcomes. 

Namely, better-trained, better-respected, higher-paid teachers.


  1. Better Teachers Produce Better Educational Results. PERIOD.

Here we go back to Finland again, a country with the best outcomes for public school educated children in the world.

A place where you cannot step into an elementary school classroom as an accredited teacher until you have complete your 5-year master’s degree.

Along with that intensive 5-year degree comes unprecedented freedom and respect to run their classrooms in the way they believe will benefit their students the most:

“In Finland, teachers are largely free from external requirements such as inspection, standardized testing and government control; school inspections were scrapped in the 1990s.”

Teachers are highly-trained, highly-compensated and highly-respected.

The rest of the world has taken notice and many countries around the globe are beginning to put policy in place at the highest levels of government to produce similar outcomes.

But America?

Well, I am forced to conclude is that the policy makers of this great country are content with keeping our general populace as dumb as possible.

In states around the country, the lessons of Finland and others have been completely, totally ignored.

In my own state of Texas, the biggest initiative of the past decade has been to take the money that could have gone to producing better -trained, higher-paid, more autonomous teachers and use it to buy every student their very own IPad.

But why would this be the case? Why would policy makers intentionally ignore educational solutions that lead to proven increases in outcomes in favor of spending on solutions that don’t? Isn’t the education of our children their most important priority? Don’t they have our best interest in mind? After all, how will they get re-elected if they don’t do a good job of educating our kids?

Really, when you look at the way that educational policy gets decided in Texas and other states, the only answers you can arrive at aren’t happy ones.

It’s in the best interest for large corporate entities to keep the public as dumb as possible so that we will continue purchasing billions of dollars’ worth of crap that we don’t need every year. It’s in the best interest of the politicians and policy makers to keep their jobs, which means getting re-elected.

When the only way that a given politician can get re-elected is to out-spend her rivals, as is the case in America, securing campaign funding is the first and most important priority for any candidate.

I don’t believe that each educational policy maker around the country is a nefarious schemer, plotting to keep the populace dumb, docile and controllable.

But I do believe that they drank the Kool-Aid, bought the hype, jumped on the bandwagon that technology was the miracle solution to our country’s educational problems.

After all, it’s so SHINY! And it looks so FUTURISTIC!

And it never hurts when the company selling the technology turns out to be the same company putting billions of dollars back into the pockets of politicians to fund their eventual re-elections.


  1. So, What Can We Do?

Short of pulling your kids out of public school and decreasing your expenses and consumption to facilitate homeschooling them, make sure you are limiting their screen time at home.

Although, with the current educational culture being what it is in America, you could just take the plunge and join the growing number of parents who are making the bold decision to pull their kid out and give them a proper education, away from the gauntlet of corruption and institutional “idiocracy” that our public schools have become.

We are researching making just such a change in our own home. Will be reporting on this process soon!



picky eaters, parenting, toddlers, family dinner time

This Plate Could Change Your Whole Family Dinner

I am conflicted on the “picky eater” issue.

This plate found me the other day, and I couldn’t decide how I felt about it.

picky eaters, parenting, toddlers, family dinner time

On the one hand, I feel like children should eat what the grown-ups eat without any cajoling or bribing or games involved.

This is the way it’s done in most other countries and to mostly fantastic results.  When kids aren’t “allowed” to be picky, they tend to eat more well-rounded meals, whine less, and are in general a lot healthier.

In her book “Bringing Up Bebe” Pamela Druckerman further explains the ins and outs of children’s eating habits in her expat country of France.  It’s worth a read.

On the other hand, I am sympathetic to parents of toddlers who struggle daily to get their kids to eat their broccoli.

We have taken a pretty hard line with our kids on food.  They eat what we eat or they don’t eat.  We don’t fight at dinner to “make” them eat.  We try to keep dinnertime light and fun.

That being said, there are a few strategies that I’ve found useful in “teaching” our children to eat in a well-rounded manner.

Below are some “hard-line” approaches to dealing with children and food and also some “soft-line” strategies.  No judgement here.

The “Hardline”

1. Tally Chart

I got this idea from Druckerman’s book and then took the idea very literally.

Druckerman asserts that the problem we have in the States is that we only offer children a food choice two, three, maybe four times and then give up.  In France, they offer the choice twenty, thirty times.

The tricky thing here is that it often feels like you’ve offered your child asparagus twenty times before you finally give up.  When in reality, it’s only been twice.

So, to this end, I made a very simple chart.

I listed all the veggies down the left side and left room on the right side to make a tally mark every time I offered that food.  To keep it super simple I just started with veggies, but you could add any food you think is important and you predict will be a struggle to get your child to eat.

Then, every time I offered that food to our children, I simply made a tally mark.  I kept it taped to the fridge for easy access.

I was shocked to see that a) I only offered foods two to three times before I felt like giving up and b) there were some vegetables that I didn’t even offer at all.  The chart served as a great reminder of what veggies I needed to remember to cook up and offer.

2. Thank You Bites  I got this from a babysitter that use to watch our children.  She would encourage the boys to take a “thank you bite” of everything on their plate.  The purpose here is two fold: 1) it gets the children to try new foods and 2) it teaches appreciation for the person that has taken time and effort to make a nice meal for them.

3. Cook With Your Children

You’ve heard it before.  Let me tell you this though – it doesn’t have to be a big production.  You don’t have to make everything from scratch or even involve your kid in the whole meal.  Just let them take part in one of the dishes.  Or part of one of the dishes. Let them cut the veggies, or season the meat or stir the sauce.  We have found that having one child involved in the kitchen for even five minutes during meal prep increases the amount of that dinner they are willing to eat by about 50%.

Sometimes my perfectionistic tendencies keep this from happening.  I think I have to have a whole lesson on proper veggie cutting or I need toddler knives (do those exist?), or the perfect toddler-friendly recipe, but really, all I need is five minutes of shared attention with one child.  It doesn’t really matter whether we’re slicing bread or breaking pasta or stirring dough.

The “Soft line”:

4. Cupcake Pan Surprise

Take a cupcake pan.  Place a small sticker on the bottom of the pan.  Place little bits of various foods in each spot (carrots, cheese, broccoli, peas, dried cranberries, etc…).  Tell your child that if they try the food that is in the spot with the sticker underneath, that they get a treat.  The treat can be edible or not, but don’t reveal what it is.  If you do they may just decide they don’t want the treat and not engage in the exercise.  The idea is that since they don’t know which cup the sticker is under, they will try something from each section.

5.  Dinner Game Board

Make dinner a game with the above mentioned Dinner Winner Kids Plate.

I think this could be a fun choice for special dinners or every Friday night maybe.  I wouldn’t use it every night as it might quickly lose its appeal.  Or become a struggle instead of fun.

Maybe this one would be good for a night you’re making spinach and peas!

Now it’s your turn – do you take a hard line or a soft line when it comes to dinnertime and “yucky” foods?  What strategies do you use?

Youth Sports: Gateway to Overscheduling

38888637_s_optMr. B and Mr. C have been playing with balls, bats, pucks, disks and just about anything else they can get their hands and feet on since they were very small.

This week, they participated in their first T-Ball practice with their new team, The Sluggers.

As they’ve grown up, we watched many of their friends join youth sports teams. We watched from a distance with some trepidation.

Because as Americans (and especially as Texans), youth sports is often the first step to the ultimate transformation into an overscheduled child.


1. First, Some Baggage

Competitive team sports is a big part of growing up as a kid in Texas. Even if you don’t participate in team sports, you can’t avoid the culture that surrounds it.

Football still remains the reigning sport today as it did when I was 5 years old. But Texans raising children today can choose from much more than just football for their aspiring athlete to play.

The range of options now includes hockey, lacrosse, water polo, disc golf and the list goes on and on.

I grew up playing soccer for about 12 years. That was 12 years of weekly soccer practices, weekly soccer games, and weekly soccer scrimmages. I learned a great deal and made a lot of friends.

In the first four years of playing soccer I didn’t have any friends who played in multiple sports leagues but by the time I was about 9, I began to notice that I didn’t have any friends who didn’t play in multiple sports leagues.

Several of my friends began to play baseball for the city league. So I talked my parents into letting me play as well. Then some other friends began playing in a basketball league at the local recreation center, and I joined the team.

But the next year, I noticed that things became much more competitive. My soccer team decided to go select. This means the team made the choice to enter into a more competitive league of teams.

Select soccer leagues also typically require enormous time commitments each week from players, coaches and parents.

Some of the members of my YMCA basketball team signed up to do a basketball camp which would be a two-week long intensive training camp.

The level of competition in the city baseball league had ramped up significantly. I found myself swinging and missing fastballs that really were fast!

The competition was ramping up in all three of the leagues I played in. Not only were that but the seasons beginning to overlap. It was becoming possible, for example, to play soccer year-round.

This was manageable at first because each sport had its own individual season and this prevented overlap, but this segregation of youth sports to each season has all but disappeared.

My parents and I sat down and had a frank talk about what role sports should play in my life going forward and how much time I should be spending on sports. We reached a decision to drop basketball, decline moving on to select soccer, but continue playing soccer recreationally on a different team.

As much as I liked playing baseball I could see that I was reaching my limit of how competitive I could be, so I dropped that too.

I enjoyed playing soccer for several more years and I made a whole new group of friends in the process. My parents proactively prevented me from becoming overscheduled. They were motivated to preserve their own sanity and mine and maintain a realistic perspective about what the point of playing sports was for me.

But, several of my friends did not have parents who made this choice.

I saw, for example, kids who played select soccer and football. I knew plenty of kids who joined one of our middle school sports teams while also maintaining membership on 1 or 2 teams outside of school.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was seeing first-hand was a trend that was sweeping America; the trend of overscheduling kids. Over the last 20 years, this trend has entered the mainstream.

Today, kids are so overscheduled that only playing on 2 sports teams seems like a light load of extracurricular activities to many parents.

But not us.


2. Finding Moderation

So this was my own baggage, my own perspective that I brought with me as I approached the topic of Mr. B and Mr. C playing team sports.

When was the right time for them and for us?

Which sport (or sports?) would make the most sense for them to try out?

How could we ensure that we didn’t begin to slide down the same slippery slope of overscheduling that so many families succumb to?

Sarah and I tend to think about things a lot before we execute. This is a good habit, at least most of the time.

But sometimes, too much reflection and research can lead to inaction on our part. In fact, sometimes we tell ourselves we are researching to make the best decision, when we are really delaying the decision for as long as we can!

After having a talk about it, we decided that it was time to sign the boys up for T-ball. They had been showing interest for months and we felt like we had come to a place where we could balance practices once a week and games on Saturdays with the needs of our newborn Mr. A and with the priorities of spending free, unscheduled time together as a family.

We also decided to incorporate a discussion about T-ball into our weekly family meeting on Sunday evenings. This will give all of us a chance to sit down and talk, and reevaluate how it’s going and any adjustments we need to make.

This is very much a work-in-progress for our family and we are certain to make adjustments as we go forward.

But after one very enthusiastic practice, the boys and we are loving it.

How do you prevent your kids from becoming overscheduled? What is your take on the culture of youth sports in your community?